Patience was a virtue for Rory McIlroy on Moving Day at St Andrews.
After watching playing partner Viktor Hovland hit the ground running with birdies on the 3rd and 4th, McIlroy could have easily got frustrated with his four opening pars.
But the Northern Irishman is made of sterner stuff, responding with back-to-back birdies on the 5th and 6th holes to get his round in the red on an absorbing Saturday.
While Hovland also birdied those holes to take the solo lead, McIlroy fired back in sensational fashion with a birdie on the 9th and a barely-believable eagle on the 10th.
The two players continued to trade blows over the back nine but they could not be separated, both shooting six-under 66s to share the 54-hole lead at The 150th Open.
And McIlroy, the Champion Golfer of the Year in 2014, said it was important he kept faith with his process as Hovland rode the wave of momentum at the beginning of the round.
“I thought it was really good,” he said. “I missed some opportunities early while Viktor holed a couple of long ones early on. But I stayed really patient and got my first birdie of the day on 5.
“And I feel like my patience was rewarded around the turn with a couple of birdies and that hole-out on 10. But overall, really good day. We sort of fed off each other, and navigated the last few holes well. It was sort of tricky coming in there.
“So, yeah, overall, when you're a couple off the lead going into the third day of The Open and you go out and shoot a six-under, you're always going to be pleased with that.
“I just have to just stick to my game plan, stick to the process. The more people bring up the result, the more I'm just going to harp on about process and sticking to my game plan.
“Because that's the only thing I can do, and I've done that well for the last three days. And it's put me in this position. I just need to do it for one more day.”
McIlroy is the only player in the top four who has tasted major success before, having won two PGA Championships and one US Open in addition to his Open win eight years ago.
But while he hopes that his know-how in golf’s four premier events will make a difference, he insisted that experience alone is not enough to get the job done on Sunday.
“I think so,” said the 33-year-old, when asked whether his past major experiences will help him. “But at the same time those players are playing great golf to be in this position.
“So I'm not going to take anything for granted. I don't feel like I can fall back on any sort of experience - just being here before. Nothing's given to you and I have to go out there and earn it just like I've earned everything else in my career.”
The moment of McIlroy’s round undoubtedly came on the 10th. After hitting a 335-yard drive into the greenside bunker, he was faced with a tricky shot to get up-and-down.
But the four-time major winner produced a moment of magic, holing out for an unlikely eagle to send the decibel level at St Andrews off the scale - much to McIlroy’s delight.
He explained: “That hole was sort of perched up on a little crown there. And I was just trying to get it somewhat close. Anything inside 10 feet I felt was going to be a really good shot.
“It just came out perfectly. I think it was the first bunker I put it in this week. It was a nice result. It was skill to get it somewhere close, but it was luck that it went in the hole. You need a little bit of luck every now and again, especially in these big tournaments. And that was a nice bonus.”
McIlroy and Hovland are four shots ahead of Friday’s overnight leader Cameron Smith and Cameron Young going into the final 18 holes at the home of golf.
But McIlroy believes there is no reason to think it is just a two-horse race for the Claret Jug, with the Old Course more than capable of throwing up plenty more twists and turns.
“I think we've seen it all week. People can go out in 30, 31, whatever it is. I think for me it's expect the unexpected. But at the same time, I have to focus on myself,” he said.
“If I go out and I post a good number, I can't worry about if it's Viktor or if it's the two Camerons, if it's whoever it is. I just have to do my thing. I've been doing my thing for the last three days and it's put me in a good position.”
McIlroy has been backed by vocal support at the home of golf all week, while he also has his wife Erica Stoll, their baby daughter Poppy and his parents cheering him on.
And despite being locked in an intense battle with Hovland on Saturday, McIlroy still made a concerted effort to soak up the atmosphere in between shots.
“I think all week I've been trying to do that,” McIlroy added with a smile. “The galleries have been massive. The ovations coming on the greens, with the big grandstands.
“Walking up 18 and that whole scene, trying to look for my parents and Erica and Poppy in the windows of the Rusacks, because I know what rooms we're staying in.
“I think it's appreciating the moment as well and appreciating the fact that it's unbelievably cool to have a chance to win The Open at St Andrews. It's what dreams are made of.
“And I'm going to try to make a dream come true tomorrow.”